Brain and Spinal Cord Injuries Killing High School Football Players
- March 14
- Evans & Herlihy
- Personal Injury
Researchers at the University of North Carolina released a report in January about the prevalence of fatal brain and spinal cord injuries in high school and college football players. The report stated that 24 high school athletes and four college players died from brain or spinal cord injuries between 2005 and 2014.
Given that about 1.1 million high school students and 75,000 college students play football, deaths from brain and spinal cord injury are rare. But these deaths point to a need for additional research on how to protect young athletes.
The UNC researchers found that 58 percent of the high school deaths and all of the college deaths occurred in the past five years, and 71 percent of the high school deaths occurred in players who were tackling or being tackled.
Improper tackling form is a known risk factor for spinal cord and brain injuries. University Interscholastic League at the University of Texas at Austin says that to reduce the incidence of such injuries, certain protocols should be in place:
- Coaches should drill players on fundamentals, especially blocking and tackling.
- Coaches and officials should discourage players from “using their heads as battering rams,” and the rules that forbid “spearing” (ramming with the head) should be strictly enforced during practice and competition.
- Athletes’ training must include exercises that strengthen neck muscles.
- An athlete who shows signs of a head injury (such as dizziness or confusion) should not be allowed to practice or play without medical authorization.
Those tips could help reduce injuries, but there’s sometimes a disconnect between written policies and what really happens on the field.
The UNC report includes details about what happened preceding each player’s death. Many of the incidents highlight a need for increased enforcement of procedures to identify concussion and policies to prevent dangerous tackles, as these excerpts show:
- A college player collapsed during practice and was transported to a trauma center, where he later died from severe head trauma and swelling on the brain. For two days before his collapse, his forehead was bleeding from a blow to the head;, and despite complaining of dizziness and a headache, he returned to practice.
- A high school player collapsed during a game and was taken to a hospital, where he died two days later from second impact syndrome – a fatal injury in young athletes that occurs when an athlete who has not fully recovered from a concussion suffers a second concussion. The UNC report said this young athlete had suffered a concussion at practice two days earlier.
- A high school player who lowered his helmet into the chest of an opponent immediately lost consciousness. He died one week later from a traumatic brain injury.
In a contact sport, there’s always a risk of injury. But when coaches lack training in concussion protocol, or fail to recognize when a player needs medical attention, they may be endangering the lives of student athletes.
Student athletes may be reluctant to admit they have a concussion, knowing that would make them ineligible to return to play, so coaches and parents need to be on the lookout for common concussion symptoms. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s free online concussion training can help coaches and parents recognize the signs of concussion in young athletes.
If football-related brain or spinal cord injuries have affected your family, discuss it with one of the attorneys at the Austin, TX-based Evans Law Firm. As personal injury attorneys with years of experience, we help the people of Texas put their lives back on track. We offer small law firm attention with big law firm results. Call today at 1-855-414-1012 or fill out this online contact form to find out how we can help you.